The Armenian parliament passed on Thursday a controversial bill on emergency rule that was revised by the government after being strongly criticized by the country’s main opposition groups.
The bill regulating the introduction and enforcement of a state of emergency was already adopted by the National Assembly in the first reading less than a month ago. The government withdrew and modified it after being accused of preparing ground for future use of the armed forces against political dissent.
The changes made in the adopted text are meant to address the opposition criticism. In particular, they stipulate that only those army units that underwent “special training” can be used by the authorities. Their main function will be to protect government buildings and other strategic facilities, rather than break up street protests.
Under the law, the president of the republic can turn to the military for help if police and other security forces are unable to enforce emergency rule. In that case, military personnel will be allowed to use riot equipment and live ammunition in accordance with an Armenian law on the police.
The changes failed to satisfy the opposition minority in the parliament, with deputies from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party attacking the authorities during heated debates on the parliament floor. They said the bill still runs counter to Armenia’s constitution which forbids any army involvement in domestic political battles.
Some opposition deputies also continued to link its passage with the May 6 parliamentary elections. Government officials denied such connection.
A Zharangutyun deputy, Stepan Safarian, also protested against the fact that the National Assembly adopted the bill on the fourth anniversary of the March 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan that left ten people dead. “Remembering that day and the state of emergency that was declared with our participation at the time, I want the National Assembly leadership to avoid putting such issues to the vote today,” Safarian said shortly before the parliament vote.
Parliament speaker Samvel Nikoyan rejected the demand and went ahead with the vote, however.